Islam Makhachev and Alexander Volkanovski are set to go head-to-head in one of the most highly-anticipated rematches in UFC history this weekend.
Volkanovski steps up on short notice to face the UFC lightweight champion after Charles Oliveira was forced to withdraw from the event. Makhachev gets a quick change in opponent but one that he’s familiar with after sharing the cage for five rounds in a fantastic back-and-forth battle at UFC 284 in February.
Read on for the latest betting odds, our staff predictions, fight analysis and breakdown, as well as our best bets for Makhachev vs Volkanovski.
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Islam Makhachev enters the UFC 294 main event as a decent-sized betting favorite against Alexander Volkanovski, who provides underdog value at +200.
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Makhachev vs. Volkanovski Predictions
Alexander Volkanovski is once again showing fans why he is dubbed “The Great” as he comes in on short notice to rematch the most difficult fight of his career. For Volkanovski, knowing that he is coming in on short notice a weight class up means he has to get started quickly and he has been open about this in the media. He is the quicker fighter with a wider variety of looks to offer Makhachev.
Volkanovski excels in traveling distance with his punches, and switching stance to create unique entries into the pocket, however while he had early success doing both of these, Makhachev got his reads eventually and will likely do so even quicker in a rematch.
Early in their first fight, Volkanovski rattled Makhachev with a step through left cross, Makhachev later adjusted by countering the step through with a check right hook. Likewise, the stance switch in the pocket gave Volkanovski his moments to land flush, but eventually Makhachev was able to consistently land the left cross on that same switch.
Volkanovski has to find a way to hide his usual favored entries. One way he can do so is switch often between finishing his combinations with the step through and low kicks, which he was able to land the few times he made that variance, he also had success stepping in and leading with the right body hook the two or three times he mixed them in. Ultimately, Volkanovski cannot get comfortable with any one technique he finds success with, Makhachev is too good at adjusting to consistencies in his opponents striking and making counters off of them.
For Makhachev, he knows he can afford to be patient. Where Volkanovski thrives in his activity, Makhachev does very well utilizing a smaller scale of weapons. In their opening round in their first fight, Volkanovski can be seen mixing up his footwork, feinting with his jab and showing the rear shoulder, flinching the back leg rise to fake kicks, while Makhachev stayed on the backfoot, fencing with the lead hand jab and hook looking and throwing the odd right body kick.
Where Volkavoski initially looks to set up his attacks, Makhachev sits back and makes reads for counters, and he can afford to sit back as long as he wants knowing he has prepared for five rounds where Volkanovski has not. One of the biggest adjustments that Makhachev made was allowing Volkanovski to crash into his clinch and eat knees when he would otherwise drive opponents back with his step through overhand. Makhachev’s ability to sit back on the outside but negate giving up ground when it mattered was huge. It causes pause on his opponent’s entries as the fight goes on, and Makhachev was also able to complete reactive level changes to Volkanovski’s pressure.
Early in the fight, Volkanovski turned his back to wall a walk on multiple occasions, providing Makhachev the opportunity to rack up control time early. Later in the fight, instead defending the top control with a butterfly hook in order to walk around to a sprawl position, showed Volkanovski can have success if he maintains facing Makhachev and dealing with his grappling head on, however, that was later in the fight when Makhachev was fatigued. I believe that early on, Makhachev will still have success banking grappling control, especially if Volkanovski rushes to give up his back attempting to get up.
Volkanovski has a big predicament. He has to put the pressure on early, coming off of a short-notice signing and recent surgery, however, he cannot overcommit so much that he plays into the counter-punching and reactive wrestling of Makhachev. Makhachev‘s style is built very well to make those who over-act pay for it, and while pushing that pace could work well for Volkanovski late given a camp, without the conditioning he would otherwise have, it’s a tough ask.
Pick: Islam Makhachev to win (-250 at BetUS)
The fight of the year favorite takes place at UFC 284. Pound for pound #1, Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski takes on the pound for pound #2 Islam Makhachev for the lightweight strap. Currently, Volkanovski is on a 22-fight win streak dating back to 2013 in the Australian Fighting Championship. In the UFC, Volk is undefeated, with four knockouts and eight decision wins. Not only has he dominated his division, Volk, scarily so, seems to have leveled up in his three most recent fights. Given he’s gone from elite to somehow more elite, him pursuing double-champ status seems like the natural next step for his legacy.
Meanwhile, Makhachev’s legacy began before many people even knew who he was. Makhachev is the protégé of Khabib Nurmagomedov, arguably the greatest fighter of all time. Unbelievably and humbly, Nurmagomedov himself claimed that Makhachev is the better grappler of the two and will hold the lightweight belt. The former is, unfortunately, unprovable unless Khabib comes back, and the latter is already true. Khabib is normally in Islam’s corner but has decided to step away from coaching. This will be Makhachev’s first UFC event without the possible GOAT at his side. Nevertheless, Makhachev’s utter dominance during his 11-fight winning streak, also undefeated in the UFC, suggests he will be more than capable regardless of his coaching corner.
To boil Volkanovski down in the simplest terms, he is one of the best strikers in the entire UFC with high-level offensive and defensive wrestling, cardio for days, and a will to win that seems unmatched. Recently, each of his skill sets seems to have improved. His hands are just a bit faster, his footwork just a bit more impactful, he is carrying more power, and his hunger has only grown. On the feet, Volk is a masterclass of MMA striking.
He has a cracking leg kick, which he uses at range often considering he is typically the shorter fighter. He moves with precision and explosion, using footwork and timing as weapons rather than just aspects of his game. He rarely throws a single shot at a time, instead able to string together unique and effective combinations. And, when he lands, he lands with accuracy and power.
The most impressive aspect of Volkanovski’s game, though, are his feints. Given that he is often the shorter fighter, Volk has developed a truly great way of entering striking range. He is able to feint so effectively that he draws out an ill-advised, ill-timed, or poorly thrown strike from his opponent. From here, rather than a simple counter, Volk slips his opponent’s strike, cuts an angle, gets to his preferred spot, and lands an open and impactful combination.
Few others are so seamlessly and consistently able to combine feints with footwork, timing, head movement, and combination striking. He is just that good. In the grappling department, an area that presumably will be tested, Volkanovski is also highly skilled. He is a stout fighter who uses his low center of gravity to get lower than opponents.
Then, he can drive his hips effectively to reverse positions on the cage or push off when he’s wrapped up. In the times that he’s hit the mat, Volkanovski has proven an ability to remain calm, work patiently through a tough position, and get back up through fundamentals and strength.
Islam Makhachev is often compared to Khabib because of their similar fight style and connection outside of the cage. However, he is his own fighter and his greatness is his own as well. Makhachev’s strength is his wrestling which might just be the best in the UFC. He is massive for the 155 division and is often the stronger fighter. Yet, his timing, skills, and speed are what separate him when wrestling. He is able to explode into takedowns regardless if he sets his shots up with strikes or not because his timing is next level.
Makhachev typically strikes with power because his goal is to get the fight down. If his power shots, which are still highly technical and rarely wild, miss, he is able to counter wrestle the counterstrikes that come his way. Similarly to how Volkanovski uses feints to set up counters, Makhachev uses power shots to set up counter wrestling. When an opponent raises their hands to defend his power shots or return their own fire, their hips are exposed.
Once Makhachev sees exposed hips, he’s like a shark to chum. He explodes with lighting fast feet, wrangles his opponent with elite form, and drives his hips forward with unmatched persistence until they hit the mat. If his opponent is able to survive by backing into the cage, Makhachev is just as happy because his cage wrestling is also one of the best in the entire UFC. Russian fighters, especially those from Dagestan seem to have a vice grip in their gloves. Makhachev is the poster child for this grip strength.
When an opponent is against the cage, Makhachev grips wrist, controls position, then either takes the back or looks for a trip. In either case, because of the famous “Dagestani handcuff” that Makhachev implements, his opponent is pinned between the cage and the most terrifying man at 155 pounds. Not an ideal place to be. Not matter his method, Makhachev looks to get the fight to the mat as soon as possible and rarely struggles to do so.
Once down, just like his mentor, Makhachev’s top position is grueling and suffocating. He drives the top half of his body into his opponent, forcing them to remain stuck in a compromising position or take an ill-advised risk trying to shrimp out. If they remain stuck, Makhachev rains down slicing elbows and ground & pound that often ends the fight. If his opponent tries to scramble, Makhachev quickly transitions for a submission and finds the finish that way. Put simply Makhachev has the best wrestling in the division, possibly the UFC, and has no issues finding the finish once it’s down on the mat.
This fight is going to be the highest-level fight of the year, even if it ends in round 1. That is how truly elite both fighters are. Volkanovski needs to be in the best shape of his life for this fight because I see his path to victory through unrelenting pressure. If he can continue moving, striking, and defensively grappling for 25 minutes, he can win a decision on the back of volume.
But, if he takes even a second for a break, gets caught against the cage even once, or mistimes even one strike, Makhachev will exploit the opening and get the fight down. I expect Volkanovski to touch Makhachev early and Makhachev to be cautious early on as he tries to get Volk’s timing. But, come the end of round 2 and into round 3, I think Makhachev will find an opening, get ahold of Volkanovski’s hips, get the fight down, and find a submission soon after.
Pick: Makhachev by submission (+275 at BetUS)
As Khabib said, if you are a champion, you should fight King Kong if he can make your weight class. That belief in championship mindset has come to fruition with Islam Makhachev saying yes to a short-notice change from Charles Oliveria to Alexander Volkanovksi. This belief in championship mindset coincides with absolute faith in himself, as Islam has full trust in himself that he can beat anyone he fights against, and his track record in the octagon is proof that this faith is highly warranted.
The reason why Islam is as good as he is is due to blending elite wrestling with vastly underrated striking. The wrestling game of Islam is highly known, and was even illustrated against Volkanovski during moments and even for an entire round, but so too was his striking game where he showcased solid southpaw striking with dangerous body kicks.
While the striking is there, against the elite striking opponent of Volk, Islam will likely need to show improved defense and/or improved cardio to keep up with the pace Volk will put forth. If he improves in either or if he leans on his wrestling more in this fight, then he should enter the octagon with full trust that he will leave as champion once again, perhaps for the final time in his career with retirement always rumored.
While Volkanovski lost the last fight against Islam Makhachev, many people in the MMA community scored it for him, myself included. While my scorecard means absolutely nothing in reality, the notion that some out there believed he beat what is thought to be an untouchable champion is important.
The importance of that is Volkanovski not only saw he could win, but he progressed each round of the fight with confidence, and that positive progression will allow him to enter the octagon with perhaps more confidence than what he had last fight. As many fight analysts state, a confident fighter is a dangerous fighter, and Volkanovski is unequivocally that.
The danger of Volk is similar to Islam but flipped whereby his elite attribute is striking with an underlying skill in grappling. The striking, similar to Islam’s wrestling, cannot go understated as Volk puts forth a pace and technical display that is unmatched and allows him to get up on scorecards throughout the duration of rounds.
While Volk favors his striking, he can certainly grapple, and perhaps the most important change in this fight compared to the last is that he not only felt the strength of Islam in their last fight, he found himself in an uncomfortable defensive position where he managed to escape, not with luck but with skill. Once escaped in his last fight, Volkanovksi flipped a confidence switch and at that moment, seemed to be a step ahead of Islam. If he can ride the momentum, then Volk can change the outcome of the fight here.
Candily, I am a fan of both fighters, and pains me to see one lose. Because of this biased lens in favor of each, I am forced to think logically contrary to trusting fandom alone. The logic of this fight, from a betting perspective, is going round 5 starts at even money given both men are elite everywhere and a finish will be quite hard to find.
But, if I were to choose a side to go with, I would elect to back the dog price of Alexander Volkanovski. This choice is rooted in the fact that in the first fight, while he trained with renowned grappler, Craig Jones, he did not feel the strength of the boogeyman-effect Islam has. But, having felt what it feels like to face the elite grappler of Islam, Volk can now fight with little hesitation, and a confident Volk is one I want to back.
Pick: Round 5 Starts (-110)
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